About Howard Marten
Howard Marten was the son of a London shopkeeper and became a pacifist at an early age. As a teenager, he campaigned against the Boer War, making himself unpopular at school. His father was a Quaker and his mother a Congregationalist. Howard became an active Quaker and, not long after leaving school, found work as a bank clerk in Piccadilly.
Something of a rebel
Howard Marten was living above his father's shop in Wigmore Street, central London, when war broke out. A 30-year-old bank clerk, he opposed the war from the beginning. Unlike Bert and John, he had long been vocal about his pacifism, having campaigned against the Boer War in his early teens.
Looking back on his early life, he reflected on his motivations.
At that time my father was a member of the Society of Friends. My father had been a Friend all his lifetime - until he married, but his wife came of a French Huguenot family, and they were Congregationalists, so that I was brought up in a Nonconformist atmosphere but not actually Quaker. Although many of my father's family were Quakers, and I went to a lot of Meetings that were held under the auspices of the Society.
I was as a boy always inclined to pacifist views. I could never side with the idea of martial violence. It didn't appeal to me at all; even as far back as the Boer War, I felt that was inconsistent with our Christian beliefs. I was in school and enjoyed a certain amount of unpopularity even at the time, because of my pacifist views, and there was a good deal of violence in London towards what they called pro-Boers - that was the epithet which was flung at pacifists.
That I think was my first experience of being involved in peace work, although my grandfather was the secretary and treasurer of a Kentish Peace Society, so that there was an aura of pacifism rather hanging over our family; and he did a lot of active work towards peace.
Between the Boer War and the war of 1914 was a more or less quiescent period, although I think many people with hindsight realised that there was a certain inevitability about the way things were going: the building up of the fleets of all the European countries and so on; the attitude of both ourselves and the Germans was becoming increasingly difficult to meet with.
I suppose I've got something of the rebel in my nature. I'm not a believer in doing a thing just because somebody else tells you to do it. You have to reason it out for yourself; and that I think is the test of these things. You've got to decide what your personal responsibility is. Of course that's a doctrine that doesn't go down with a lot of people. Yours not to reason why.
I remember telling somebody that if I was the only person in the world I would take this attitude. That's how I felt about it. It was a very personal thing.
Howard's opposition to the Boer War had already given him experience of taking a principled stand. Does repeated experience of unpopular views help to make someone more principled? Or does it tend to make them defensive and narrow-minded? Or would it be fair to say that it more often wears them down and weakens their enthusiasm?
Howard had arrived in France with sixteen other COs, all of them knowing that they faced the death penalty if they disobeyed orders while deemed to be on “active service”. After imprisonment and various punishments, four alleged ringleaders were singled out and court-martialled. Howard was one of them.
Imprisoned in Harwich Redoubt, Howard and the other COs decided to refuse work of a “military character” but agreed to cleaning and catering. In another edited extract from Howard's writings, he describes life as a prisoner at Harwich – and how it was cut short.
Howard was now deemed to be in the army. He was taken to an army barracks where he was held in the guard room.
On the introduction of conscription Howard Marten sought exemption as a conscientious objector. He went before a local tribunal to argue his case.
On 28 December 1915, the Cabinet agreed to introduce conscription for unmarried men aged 18–40. Howard was 31 and not married. He knew his opposition to war was about to become extremely personal, but this was still for him part of a wider struggle and a bigger faith.
As 1915 wore on, the casualties mounted, the number of volunteers dropped and pressure to introduce conscription intensified. Howard Marten knew that conscription would affect him personally. He later talked about his life in London as the war progressed.
While Laurence was growing more sympathetic to the armed forces, bank clerk Howard Marten was campaigning fervently against the war. Faced with the possibility of conscription, he was one of thousands of people to join the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF). He later talked about the people he found in the group–including those not from the peace movement, but from the police.
Poetry played an important part in Howard's life. He wrote a good many poems throughout the war years, neatly written down in a carefully preserved notebook. Early on in the war, he wrote a poem about the Quaker notion of the “inner light”, which played such an important part in his pacifism.
In this week's extract from Howard's later conversations about the war, he links both principle and personality in describing the formation of his views.